As the year 1944 was ending, German forces were battling Allied troops just a few miles from the town of Pepinster, Belgium. In a contest later known as the “Battle of the Bulge,” the Nazi battalions were forced to retreat, their plans to keep the port of Antwerp away from the Allies in tatters.
During those dark days, a 19-year-old Catholic named Raoul Dederen, staring down the “millennium” proclaimed by Adolf Hitler, a so called “thousand-year Reich,” turned towards the message of hope delivered to him by some Seventh-day Adventist friends. While guns roared nearby, Dederen was baptized into a faith whose millennial expectations were not centered in histrionic rantings, but “the blessed hope” of Jesus’ soon return.
Dederen, who went on to become one of the most-beloved professors at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, passed to his rest Oct. 24, 2016, at the age of 91.
He was one of my favorite teachers with his signature emphasis on the doctrine of Christ.
“For every student who has ever valued clarity and organization at the front of the classroom, Dr. Dederen was the premier example of both,” says Bill Knott, editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World, and a student in Dederen’s seminary classes in the early 1980s.“Even on dark, cold Michigan mornings, Dr. Dederen could make a 7:30 a.m. class sparkle with his wit, his eagerness, and his clear command of his topics.I still keep the notes I took in those classes near at hand as a witness to one of the most systematic minds I have ever encountered.”
Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, world church president, said Dederen "was a great and longtime friend" whose loss was sad news.
"Dr. Dederen was one of my seminary teachers and helpful mentor of mine," Wilson said via email. He "was one of my favorite teachers with his signature emphasis on the doctrine of Christ. He was very animated and interested in so many things of life. It was a privilege to travel with him for about three weeks early in my work as Ministerial Association secretary in the then Africa-Indian Ocean Division. We traveled to various places together in Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo. He was a wonderful teacher in the classroom or in the field instructing pastors."
Wilson added, "He was a precious friend and I plan to see him soon when the Lord returns to continue our conversation and to sit at the feet of Christ, our Savior, whom Dr. Dederen loved, about whom he taught and for whom he lived."
My sister and I, while sledding down the snowy hills not far from home, ran into two or three young Adventists ... As we walked up the slopes, they shared their faith with us, starting with the doctrine of the millennium.
A Pivotal Encounter
For Dederen, encountering Adventism in the midst of humanity’s greatest crisis thus far, the Second World War, was pivotal.
“There was so much destruction, pain, and blood,” Dederen told Ministry Magazine editor Nikolaus Satelmajer in 2006. “I was often disturbed by the fact that my Catholic faith hardly answered my questions, especially about good and evil as well as about my future and that of Europe. I refused to go along with Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, very popular at the time. I refused to accept the view that man faces an absurd world with feelings of anguish and disgust.”
His encounter with Adventism “started with a snow party in the winter of 1942,” he told Satelmajer. “My sister and I, while sledding down the snowy hills not far from home, ran into two or three young Adventists ... As we walked up the slopes, they shared their faith with us, starting with the doctrine of the millennium.”
One of those young Seventh-day Adventists was Louise Fyon, whom he married in 1947, and with whom he shared life for 68 years. Louise Dederen, an archivist at Andrews University who was developed the Heritage Center there, received the school’s John Nevins Andrews Medallion, becoming the first woman and first non-academic at the school to do so. Raoul Dederen also received the John Nevins Andrews Medallion for his academic work.
A graduate of Belgium’s Athénée Royal, Dederen earned his master of arts and moral science doctorate degrees from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Beginning in 1947, he served forseven years as an Adventist pastor in Belgium, followed by ten years on the faculty of the French Adventist Seminary in Collonges-Sous-Salève. During that latter period, Dederen began and completed his doctoral studies.
A 1964 guest teaching invitation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs led to Dederen’s being invited to join the faculty there. He became a professor of systematic and historical theology, and served as dean of the Seminary from 1989 until his retirement in 1991, when he became an active emeritus professor, still teaching and advising doctoral students until 2001.
“While at the Seminary he taught major courses dealing with revelation and inspiration, the doctrine of the Church, the doctrine of Christ, Roman Catholic theology, and ecumenical trends,” his colleague Darius Jankiewicz noted.
“In addition to his pedagogical and administrative responsibilities, he devoted himself to publishing ministry,” Jankiewicz said. “He wrote a multitude of articles that appeared in numerous Adventist and non-Adventist peer-reviewed journals and magazines and also contributed chapters to numerous books.”
Jankiewicz said Dederen’s work as editor of the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, published in 2000, “was one of his major contributions to the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” For 20 years, Dederen participated in meetings of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches as an observer.
In 2002, before beginning a series of overseas meetings, Dederen was diagnosed with cancer, undergoing an operation to remove his “stomach, the spleen, and part of the pancreas,” as he later recalled. Being fed through a tube and told assisted living was his best option, Dederen and his wife opted for him to return home. He recovered sufficiently to live another 14 years; Louise Dederen preceded him in death in December 2015.
Along with the vast legacy of his published work, and the memories of thousands of students and Seventh-day Adventist church leaders, Dederen is survived by granddaughters Francine Bergmann and Sheila Besirli, and their families. A funeral service and interment is planned for Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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